The government is to step up consultation with rural residents in the next few months on controversial rural election proposals. Deputy Secretary for Home Affairs Stephen Fisher said yesterday officials hoped to reach a consensus with the rural populace on residency requirements for the polls which would satisfy all parties. Village elections are due at the end of next year. 'They [rural residents] are reasonable people. I hope they will take into account overall interests. I will try to talk to them until the very last day,' he said. Two forums for rural residents will be held next month. The nine district councils in the New Territories will also be consulted. In December 2000, the Court of Final Appeal ruled village elections that barred non-indigenous villagers from taking part were unlawful. Under the 'dual village heads model', one poll will be conducted exclusively among indigenous residents and another will be held for all residents. An indigenous resident can only choose to stand as a candidate in one of the elections. Residents who have lived in a village for at least three years will be eligible to vote. Those who have lived in a village for five years will be allowed to stand as candidates. Some rural leaders said the requirements be fixed at five years and seven years respectively. Mr Fisher insisted they had struck the right balance. 'Village elections are held every four years. You may ban a resident voting for the first time after he moves in on the grounds he is not familiar with the village. If he is still not allowed to vote in the second election [after he has lived there for three years], it would be unfair to him,' he said. It is also proposed spouses of indigenous residents be allowed to vote in the indigenous residents poll only. They are not allowed to stand as candidates. Mr Fisher added that the government would consult village representatives separately on rural matters. Under the new system, it is estimated 790 seats will be returned by 600 villages of indigenous residents. There will also be 650 villages with non-indigenous residents represented by 680 village heads.